The Bullshit Checklist

There are a number of questions we can ask ourselves when reading a news story to quickly determine how trustworthy it is.

  1.  Does the story appear in a mainstream news source?
  2.   If not, can I find the root source for the story?
  3.   Is the story backed up by primary sources eg government documents?
  4.   Does a Google News search turn up multiple versions of the story on different sites using large chunks of identical copy?
  5.   Can I verify the basic facts with 3 or more other mainstream but unrelated (ie not owned or affiliated) sources that don’t use identical copy?
  6.   Is the source of the story named (eg not anonymous)?
  7.   Does the source (person quoted) of the story have a track record of providing credible stories?
  8.   Does the source have an obvious agenda (ie a bias)? Check on
  9.   Is the story balanced (ie provide equal weighting to both sides of the story)?
  10.   If the story has a left-right bias, does it correlate with the known bias of the source publication?
  11.   Does the journalist have a solid track record?
  12.   Does the news org have an obvious agenda (is it owned by a company with a stake in the story, is it government owned etc)?
  13.   If yes, has that agenda been revealed in the story?
  14.   If the story has a left or right bias, can I find coverage of it from the opposite bias by an equally credible source?
  15.   Does the story contain any obvious omissions, distortions or emphasis that detracts from a position of neutrality?
  16.   Does any of it read like a press release written by a Public Relations dept or Lobby Group?
  17.   If there is a “bad guy” in the story, does the source/journalist/media company sit on the opposite side of the him, economically, politically, or spiritually?
  18.   If there is an image with the story, do a Reverse image search – does the image show up related to other, unrelated stories?
  19.   Does the story display bias by labelling? (It uses words like “progressive” or “extreme” to label one side but not the other side; or it doesn’t identify sources as liberal or conservative, but calls them neutral terms like “expert” or “independent consumer group” or “think tank”.
  20.   Does the story display bias by spin? (The journalist put her subjective views into the article).